Samuel Palmer Brooks, university president, was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, on December 4, 1863, the son of Samuel Erskine and Aurelia Elizabeth (Palmer) Brooks. About 1868 he and his family moved to Johnson County, Texas. Brooks entered the high school department of Baylor University at the age of twenty-four and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1893. He received a second A.B. degree from Yale in 1894, returned to Texas to teach in the Baylor history department, and completed an M.A. degree at Yale in 1902. He married Mattie Sims of Cleburne on December 24, 1895; they had two children.
From 1902 to 1931 Brooks served as president of Baylor University. During his administration he added to the university the college of medicine, the college of dentistry, the school of nursing, the school of law, the school of commerce and business, and the theological department; the university's endowment grew by $2 million, and several new buildings were built, including the Carroll Library, Brooks and Waco halls, a women's dormitory, and a heating plant. Enrollment rose from 783 in 1902 to 3,039 in 1930.
Brooks organized the Texas Association of Colleges in 1916 and served as president of the college section of the Texas State Teachers' Association in 1901 and 1919. He was corresponding secretary of the Texas Baptist Education Commission in 1905, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1914 to 1917, and vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1910 and 1917. He served as vice president of the Texas State Peace Society and organized the Texas State Peace Congress in 1907; he was president of that body from 1907 to 1915. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to an international peace commission and served in 1915–16. Brooks received honorary degrees from Richmond College in 1903, Mercer University in 1922, Austin College in 1924, and Georgetown College (Kentucky) in 1929. He was a Mason, a trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a member of the Southern Baptist Education Association. He died in Waco after a lengthy illness, on May 14, 1931, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.